Going Viral: How Influence Can Make an Unusually Successful Campaign


Urban Dictionary defines the phenomenon of ‘going viral’ as “an image, video, or link that spreads rapidly through a population by being frequently shared with a number of individuals.”

As vague as this definition is, it is rare that we are in any doubt about when online content has ‘gone viral’. To peddle some recent examples – #bootbae, the ‘Ryan Gosling Whispering’ meme and drunk texting Gatwick Airport. However, whereas once going viral meant that your content was guaranteed to go down in the annals of internet history, the same cannot quite be said for today’s online climate. Mirroring Urban Dictionary’s definition, viral content has become much more flash-in-the-pan, trending on all channels for a few days, a week tops, and then fading to the background of public consciousness almost as quickly.

Although this seemingly lessens the power of viral, it is important to remember that the way online content is shared has changed over time. Images, videos, articles and links spreading faster, being seen by more people and then being overtaken by more content than ever before does not mean that each piece has less impact. It simply portrays the speed at which new content can be reached, through advances in social media, blogging and, of course, influencer marketing. This new conception of ‘going viral’ also means that producing viral content is not only much more achievable and plausible, but intentional.

You may be thinking that to intentionally create viral content is somewhat of a contradiction in terms. And you’d be right. However, with more and more viral stories to trace the journey of, it is now possible to take a pretty accurate stab at creating a campaign with a good chance of achieving viral status. And guess what? The answer, more often than not, is influencers.

Why is that?

1.People love content about themselves

As blunt as it sounds, it’s undeniably true. Pioneering captains of viral content, clickbait and online media, Buzzfeed, were once quoted as saying “what people like to share the most are things about themselves”. Of course this doesn’t mean literal family photos or personal details, but things they can relate to and can see themselves in. And if we have learnt one thing about influencers, it’s that people engage with them because they relate to them, and feel on a level with them. Simply put, whack the right influencer behind a campaign, and you massively increase the chance of it being shared wider, quicker and with more verve.

2. The ‘normal’ influencer is a secret weapon

Because many influencers have gained notoriety through a ‘grass-roots’ method, despite their success, they are largely still seen by their audiences as ‘approachable’, ‘normal’ people. This can work wonders for campaign support. As an example of this, consider Sam Huang, a known and followed travel blogger, who managed to blag his way through to enjoying a $60,000 round-the-world trip courtesy of Emirates Airlines’ air-miles programme. He filmed and blogged about his experience, thus gaining huge, positive attention for Emirates’ brand. Because he was perceived as an (ironically, given his mile-high experience) down-to-earth, relatable online personality, audiences felt as though they were living his incredible trip vicariously, and talked about it accordingly.

3. Influencer reach is a catalyst

Going viral is about reaching as many people as possible in a short space of time, and there is no more important a factor in achieving this than the content being shared. People share content when they are passionate about it, and care about its source – enter influencer audiences! Influencer supported/endorsed/partnered content is more likely to be shareable owing to the affinity audiences feel with the influencer, and will therefore more readily pass it on.

4. What viral content can an influencer make?

It is useful to remember that using an influencer when trying to make content go viral does not always work in one direction. If you have the foresight to include a personality in your campaign that people will relate to and engage with, the content could go viral and the featured personality become an instant influencer. Many a career these days began in the form of unlikely online content.

Final thoughts…

Of course, going viral is not the be-all-and-end-all of content. Indeed, there are many successful campaigns that do not come anywhere near viral status. Just remember, if influencers are good at just one thing, it’s spreading the word!